María E. Rodríguez is making up for lost time. In fact, she’s pretty quick about it.
Few female runners can keep up with the 37-year-old Dinuba resident these days. Rodríguez has captured the Fresno Runner of the Year open women’s title in 2015 and 2016.
And, if she gets her way, she will start her 2017 running season on a positive note at Saturday’s Rotary Ten Chocolate Run at Fresno’s Woodward Park.
“I just love running,” said Rodríguez, a mother of four who became a teen mom at age 14. “Running makes me happy. Running is my life.”
Although barely 5-feet in height, Rodríguez has dominated local races. In the 2016 Runner of the Year series, she won four of the nine races she entered and finished in the top three in three other runs.
Rodríguez totaled 151 points to win the Runner of the Year series, ahead of second-place Amanda Whitten (130 points, two first-place finishes) and Irene Campos (75 points).
In 2015, Rodríguez won six out of 11 races (and second in the rest of the races) to finish with 169 points, far ahead of runner-up Campos’ 112 points and Whitten’s 88 points.
Rodríguez began running when she was 21, shortly after the birth of her fourth child. However, not long after starting, she took a 10-year break. She got serious again less than four years ago.
“At 33, I felt this is my time for running,” said Rodríguez. “I got serious about it.”
That dedication has paid off. Next month, she will be joining the best long-distance runners at the Boston Marathon. She qualified in her third marathon with a time of 3 hours, 31 minutes.
“I was actually very shocked,” she said about qualifying for Boston at the 2016 Mountains 2 Beach Marathon in Ventura. She shaved almost 9 minutes off her previous best marathon at the 2015 Revel Canyon Marathon.
She looks forward to Boston, the mecca of marathons for runners.
“I’m going to give it all I have and finish in a good spot,” said Rodríguez, an assistant cook in the Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified School District for 14 years.
Rodríguez believes she has faster runs left in her.
“I feel like I’m still improving as a runner,” said Rodríguez, who has personal bests of 18:50 in the 5K, 40:00 in the 10K and 1:30 in the half-marathon. “I’ll run as long as I can.”
Rodríguez gets a charge out of beating most of the male runners as well. “You just push yourself. It’s so fun,” she said.
When she isn’t running or working, Rodríguez dedicates time to painting, a passion she has had since childhood. She remembers sketching in her school notebook as a child.
“Ever since I can remember, I’d draw,” said Rodríguez, who has painted murals at Orosi Memorial Hall (her son, a U.S. Army soldier, inspired the mural) and at El Monte Junior High School.
Twelve years ago, Rodríguez started to use colors in her drawings.
“Painting allows my mind to wonder, to be in my own world,” said Rodríguez. “It’s my own fantasy world.”
Rodríguez, who has never taken art classes, makes a connection between running and painting.
“When I run, I see the beauty in nature. I take that picture in my mind and I do the painting,” said Rodríguez, who has been influenced by the painting style of Van Gogh.
When I run, I see the beauty in nature. I take that picture in my mind and I do the painting. María E. Rodríguez
Another running-painting connection: Rodríguez hangs her numerous medals from running on two, blank canvasses.
Rodríguez is the second youngest of nine children. She was born in El Ranchito, Michoacán, México. “That’s near Colima,” she explains.
She was 11 years old when her family moved to the United States. Rodríguez became a U.S. citizen 10 years ago.
After becoming pregnant, she dropped out of Orosi High School and instead graduated from Lovell High School. Growing up, she thought about becoming an architect.
Today, she dreams of opening an art gallery.